When Toby Keith was just a boy attending Southgate Elementary in Moore, his sixth-grade teacher made a remarkably prescient and then-controversial declaration to his parents: Their son was a natural-born writer.
“She goes, he is the only one left of the boys that's still writing when the girls quit and ... his creative writing is amazing,” Keith recalled in an interview last week.
“And my dad was so frustrated with her trying to convince them to make me a writer. He was like ‘My boy ain't gonna be no damn writer; you know, give him his reading, writing and arithmetic and let's go.' I remember going home in the car, he was just like, ‘There ain't no way. There ain't no way he's gonna make a nickel (as a writer). He's gonna get out like I did in the oil field and he's gonna work like a guy's supposed to work,'” the country music superstar added, laughing.
“I'm not upset with my parents. You can't tell in the sixth grade that you're supposed to tell your kid, ‘Go and be a creative writer.' But it reared its ugly head when I turned 15 ... my grandmother had the bar, I had a guitar, I was around people that were playing in garage bands. ... And the two went hand in hand. And all the sudden you look up, and you're one of the most successful ever in your genre. Or in any genre.”
Indeed, the Clinton native, who will mark his 20th year as a recording artist in 2013, has notched more than 75 million airplay performances, according to BMI. He will undoubtedly add to that number with the debut of his new album, “Hope on the Rocks,” which was released Tuesday on Show Dog-Universal Music.
Doing it his way
The singer-songwriter's father may have been wrong about his son's success as a writer, but the late H.K. Covel instilled a blue-collar work ethic in his son. Fans can almost set their calendars by Keith: Every fall, he releases an album of new material for which he is the recording artist, producer and primary songwriter.
“That's just the way I do it. It's not that I set out to be different. That's just what I run with,” he said by phone from Norman, which he calls home.
“I write all year, and at the end of the year I put an album out. And if sucks, it sucks, and if it's good, it's good. I just let it lay where it lays. It doesn't stop me from doing another one next year.”
Keith, 51, is so content with his writing and recording cycle that over the summer he turned down one of the most coveted gigs in the entertainment business: “American Idol” judge.